By James Vicini
The Senate Judiciary Committee's top Democrat asked Attorney General
Alberto Gonzales what steps are being taken to protect Americans'
privacy rights as the Justice Department demands information about
In the letter released on Wednesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio,
voting record) of Vermont asked Gonzales about the subpoena to Google
Inc. and three other companies seeking data about what millions of
Americans search for on the Internet's leading search engines.
Leahy asked about the types of information being sought, how the
department intends to use the information while protecting individual
privacy rights and civil liberties and whether it will issue any
Leahy's letter comes at a time of growing criticism in Congress over
the government's monitoring of communications, after the disclosure
that the Bush administration has been conducting domestic
eavesdropping after the September 11 attacks.
In court papers filed in California last week, the department said
Google had refused to comply with the subpoena issued last year for 1
million random Web addresses from its databases and for records of all
searches entered on Google during any one-week period.
The government said it needed the information to prepare its case
defending the 1998 Child Online Protection Act. The law prohibited
Internet companies from knowingly making available obscene or
pornographic material to minors.
The Justice Department has said that America Online, Yahoo Inc. and
Microsoft Corp. had all complied with similar requests for the
information. America Online is owned by Time Warner Inc.
Mountain View, California-based Google, the world's No. 1 Internet
search engine, advertises its informal code of conduct as "Don't be
Leahy said the collection and use by government law enforcement
agencies of such data posed unique concerns.
He said it raised "the specter of excessive government surveillance
that may intrude upon important privacy interests and chill the
exercise of" constitutionally protected free-speech rights under the
First Amendment, and some in the Executive branch close to President
Bush are beginning to ask in a pointed way, "why is Google stalling
Leahy asked how the department is addressing the privacy and civil
liberties concerns raised by the collection, storage and use of such
He also asked whether the department requested or obtained any
personally identifiable information.
Gonzales has defended the subpoena and has rejected concerns that
individual privacy rights might be violated. The department's request
to force Google to comply with the subpoena is pending before a
federal judge in California, and we are not going to allow Google to
'continue stalling and putting us off," said Gonzales. "We will get
Google on Tuesday said it would voluntarily block politically
sensitive terms on its new China site, bowing to conditions set by
Beijing in return for access to the world's second largest Internet
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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